The Warwick Advertiser asked an array of people for their thoughts on the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attack on the World Trade Towers and America.
The first question was: Where were you? The second was: Where are we now?
There were common threads in the responses:
How blue the cloudless sky was.
How the day began with mundane activities like dropping a truck off for repairs or making lunch and then getting the kids off to school.
And how out of this tragedy came unity. At least for a while.
A number of writers compared what happened 20 years ago to events happening today. Another essayist called Sept. 11 a date of demarcation: The world before that day and the world since then.
The conclusions, of course, are personal.
Bob Quinn, Managing Editor
‘Before and after’
Twenty years is a blink in time but the world is a different place since September 11, 2001. We measure time “before and after,” and nothing testifies to that more than the difference between pre-9/11 and post-9/11.
For me, it was a day of both great joy and unfathomable sadness.
My first grandchild was born about 6 a.m. that morning and I was thrilled.
Three hours later, along with the rest of the world, I saw tragedy unfold of unbelievable proportions. Everything had changed forever. I don’t think the world we live in will ever be the same.
That is not all bad; while tragedy and horror can happen in a single moment, the dawn of the 21st century and the darkness of 9/11 are reminders that there are brave and kind people who come to the forefront in moments of our lives, whether it be due to terrorism, floods, pandemics, poverty, or all the other events that can leave a black hole in our minds and hearts.
‘Nowhere felt safe’
Twenty years ago, I was awakened with the news of the first plane crash into the North Tower. Only two weeks earlier, my college roommates and I had taken a friend from Germany to the Windows on the World and now we were watching the live news coverage as the South Tower was struck followed by both tower’s collapses. It was a horrific sight that was too close to home.
That day, the phone system crashed and we were all frantic to reach our loved ones because nowhere felt safe. Public transportation shut down and my friends and family escaped NYC any way that they could. My cousin was caught in the billows of debris from the towers and brought to safety across the Hudson from a random boat. Other friends walked across the George Washington Bridge and hitchhiked North until we could pick them up.
I am blessed that all of my loved ones came home that day, but I have friends that weren’t so lucky. One friend lost her father without a trace.
At the time, I lived up the street from Stewart Air Force Base. The convoys of military vehicles and around the clock screaming air raid sirens were a constant reminder that our military was patrolling any additional attacks.
Sept. 11 was a day of fear, uncertainty and tremendous loss that taught me the value of our freedom and reaffirmed my patriotism. Yet we came together as Americans. We forgot our difference. And we were kinder to each other.
Today, it is our duty to teach our children about this moment and to honor the nearly 3,000 people who didn’t come home.
‘Twenty years later I still pause to pray’
It was a sunny September morning. I was on a temporary assignment at ShopRite’s corporate office in the Village of Florida, uploading sales data.
“A plane crashed into the World Trade Center!”
Those of us in the front office cubicle heard someone gasp while tuning the radio.
My first thought was to call my husband Rocco, a N.Y.C fireman.
“Another plane!” she yelled.
Ears glued to the radio, I kept calling Rocco.
At the 10 a.m. coffee-break, I walked downstairs. I imagined people at the WTC running down stairwells. I prayed.
Outside, I took a deep breath before I dialed my husband again. He answered!
He reminded me that he had swapped tours with Lt. Peter Freund. We didn’t know that Pete and four firemen from Engine 55 would be killed.
Rocco went back to what became Ground Zero.
Opening the entrance door, chills ran down my spine. I paused to pray. This time for all the rescue workers going into the W.T.C.
It was difficult to process all the emotions while keyboarding numbers. At home, I saw the same images the world did. It was worse than I imagined.
We know the effects tragedies bring. We witnessed how hate destroys. Also, how love overcomes. People of all backgrounds, races and countries came together. Twenty years later I still pause to pray that we never forget our humanity.
‘We ALL were there’
Every year around mid-August it happens. The weather changes, ever so slightly at first.
I begin to feel restless and a bit on edge, then realize it will be 9/11 again. For the 20th time.
People often ask me: “Were you there?”
I always give the same response: “We ALL were there.”
Truth be told I wasn’t there when the Towers fell - but I was supposed to be.
My best friend, Lt. Peter Freund, and I had agreed to swap tours, with him working Monday night 9/10 into Tuesday 9/11.
I got there a few hours later by hitching a ride through the Holland Tunnel with a PAPD Officer. We flew through with lights and sirens then emerged into the “Nuclear Winter” that was lower Manhattan.
Along with Pete, we lost four other brothers from our Company- Engine 55 in Little Italy. They were Firefighters Faustino Apostol, Stephen Russell, Bobby Lane and Chris Mozzillo.
These in addition to about 3,000 other innocent victims - each life so precious.
I am here today, grateful to enjoy my family, friends and life - because of Pete’s sacrifice.
I will “Never Forget” that Peter Freund was the living embodiment of the Gospel verse: “There is no greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for a friend.”
“In Pace Amica Mea”
Lt. Rocco Battista
Engine 55 retired
‘How difficult it is to listen to other voices, and even our own hearts’
At 9:15 a.m. when I left my 8 o’clock class at Orange County Community College, I stepped into a breezy, brilliant September day that made me feel energized.
When I reached my office, the secretary was listening a radio transmitting the news. I tried to call my son and his wife, who worked in Manhattan. I couldn’t reach them.
Stunned, horrified, fearful, I wanted to grieve, to sit with this overwhelming anxiety. Suddenly the oceans between us and so much of the chaotic world were no barriers — we were vulnerable to a small group of men with box cutters and a rudimentary sense of how to fly a plane.
We had thought we were immune to the devastation other countries suffered, that we could take whatever actions we wished around the world, without consequences to our own people.
As details later emerged, I was filled with questions. Where is Afghanistan? Who are the Taliban? What is al-Quada? Who is Osama bin Laden? Why would people do something so horrific? Men willing to sacrifice themselves and murder so many others must have had a reason.
What was it?
Yet immediately politicians and the media began to steer our thinking. They ascribed reasons and called the terrorists “cowards.” The President advised us to go out and shop. Vengeance was already in the air, before we had a chance to mourn, to ponder why this happened and what should be done.
We are still a people more prone to action than consideration. Politicians and media still manipulate our thoughts and feelings. How difficult it is to listen to other voices, and even our own hearts.
‘Courtesy and compassion filled the air as despair and sorrow filled our hearts’
The morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001, I arrived at my NYC office (13th Street) planning to brag to the staff about meeting Bruce Willis during filming of “Inside Actors Studio” the night before.
Little did I know, moments later my family, my life and the world would change forever when my Security Director told me to look out my office window.
I saw smoke coming from the Twin Towers and said: “What the hell happened?”
The rest is history.
Days later, I learned that my cousin, Jose Guadalupe, FDNY Engine 54, Ladder 4, Battalion 6, was one of the 2,996 Americans lost that day in a horrific attack on U.S. soil.
But as the dust settled, I experienced amazing acts of humanity as New Yorkers came together, embracing and comforting strangers.
Restaurants gave away free food and car horns were silenced.
Courtesy and compassion filled the air as despair and sorrow filled our hearts.
This loving sentiment echoed across the country and Americans rose to new heights of compassion for the fallen, affected and pained.
I never did share my Bruce Willis encounter, opting instead for stories of love and compassion found in the streets of New York City.